Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

by Andrea Clarke

The Volvo getting you down? Have a crack at an
off-road adventure in the ultimate boys toy!

I was blinded by the blazing sun as I nervously
squeezed the steering wheel.

“It can totally handle it,” my instructor said. “Just
trust the car. This is what is does best.”

My hot, (but way too young) instructor and I literally
defied gravity as we continued to climb the
embankment, on an incredible 60% incline. Steep was an
understatement. It felt like we were going vertical.

Loose items began to swiftly slide to the back, and
petrol sloshed in a southerly direction. As we reached the peak of the hill, it occurred to me
that this must be what astronauts feel, as they’re
strapped into the space shuttle, waiting to blast off.

It was at this stage that I felt like a pilot’s license
would have been more appropriate than a car license.
I mean, seriously, how could someone who commutes to
work in a side-swiped Hyundai be anywhere remotely
qualified to take the wheel of a vehicle that capable
of such a feat?

This was the first five minutes of Hummer School,
and, yep, as I reached the top of the hill from hell,
I was pretty much hooked. This was an official Hummer®
Off-Road Driving Academy, the very latest addition to
the activity list at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in the
Laurel Highlands of Southern Pennsylvania (www.nemacolin.com
), a rather
high-brow retreat three hours from downtown Washington,
DC.

There are only three official Hummer Off-Road
Driving Academies in North America, and well before
arriving, I was told by several different petrol heads
in-the-know that this was the best one. Nemacolin has
three H1’s and three H2’s that are good to go seven
days a week, all year round on a rugged 300 hectare
course.

When I first arrived at the resort’s main hotel, I
couldn’t help but let a few colorful expletives roll
off my tongue as I scanned the cars that lined the
driveway. Top of the line cars: a black Rolls Royce
Phantom, a Mercedes Maybach (worth an easy million)
and a range of supercharged Audi’s and BMW’s that
screamed “old money.” You didn’t have to be an expert
in demographics to figure out the gentlemen who drive
these babies are the only ones who can afford to play
golf around here.

Then, I spotted a filthy mud splattered black Hummer.
There it was, just hanging out smack bang in the
middle of these mechanical marvels. It suddenly dawned
on me; this is what they do when they’re sick of the
fairways.

I stared at it, sizing up its assets. The Optimiser
6500 turbocharged V-8 diesel with a cast-iron block,
the aluminium cylinder heads and sequential fuel
injection, 205 horsepower, 440 foot-pounds of torque,
hydro-boost four wheel in-board mounted Meritor WABCO
ABS power disc brakes, a five stack CD player AND air
conditioning. Yep, this badass baby was all mine for
the afternoon.

I’m sure if I was male, there would
have been an instant physical reaction to it, and how
could there not be—after all, the Hummer epitomised
macho. It is the undisputed tackler of all terrain;
the not-so-subtle symbol of the uber-rich and powerful
but above all, the clear vehicle of choice for
steamrolling the odd dictatorship. What more could you
ask for!

Brian, my know-all instructor, patiently sat in the
passenger seat while I tackled each of the ten
obstacles in the field test—the run through that
everyone does before they hit the trails. Every
driving skill that was needed to successfully conquer
the trails was practiced here. It was a real baptism
of fire in some ways, especially if, like me, you
drive an economical Korean-made piece of crap whose
off road capabilities are limited to mounting a gutter
when the council is doing roadwork outside your
apartment.

After mastering the Hummer’s traction control on the
“rollers,” launching the vehicle over half-metre high
cement steps one tyre at a time, and figuring out its
other basic capabilities, we slammed it into high gear
and head for the hills.

Knowing full well it could get airborne on the bumps,
Brian slyly encouraged me to speed up before we
steamed up a hill that overlooked “The Crater,” a two
kilometre-long course made up of the roughest off-road
terrain man could devise. I couldn’t help but let a
few more un-ladylike words roll off my tongue. I was
just so thrilled about having a crack at the course.

Serious vertical slopes, rock crawls, deep ravines,
tricky log crossings and impossible descents ­ It was
mine for the taking.

By far the best section of the track was one that
began with yet another almost-vertical incline, this
time Brian told me not to brake as we started coming
down the other side, tilting at a 40 degree angle.

“Let’s just coast,” he said, promising me the engine
would only let us go 15 km/hr. It was an awesome run
down the hill, which led directly into a dirty great
big pond at least a metre deep. I yelled out like a
six-year-old on a merry-go-round as we splashed into
it head on.

There is something so primitively fun about oversized
trucks and deep, muddy water, and it seems that all
sorts of people agree. Brian has instructed people
from all walks of life, from a CEO of a Fortune 500
company to an 80 year-old great-grandmother who was
desperate to see what the fuss was about.

And of course, there was the bunch of blokes having a
bachelor party who almost did some unscheduled
clearing of trees when they came over an embankment
and down the other side just a bit too fast. Bloody
amateurs!

Shortly after my stunning plough into the water, a
warning light started flashing in the cockpit. Brian
announced that the front right tyre must be a bit on
the flat side. On closer inspection, it most certainly was.

Was I
responsible? Had I driven the beast so hard it
snapped? Indeed I had done. My father would have been
so proud.

But, thanks to the on-board air compressor, my victory
over the Hummer was short lived. The tyre actually
re-inflated itself in less than five minutes. That’s
right ­ it re-inflated on the spot. Tell that to
Hyundai!

That sure took the fun out of getting stuck in the
middle of nowhere and playing the damsel in distress.
Brian and I looked at each other and agreed, it was a
clear sign that our lesson was over and it was time to
head home before we did any more damage. It was fair
enough, we had pushed ourselves and the car to its
limits all afternoon. The Hummer had earned a good
wash, and we had earned at least one pint.

* * * *

The Hotel: Nemacolin Woodlands Resort

www.nemacolin.com

If you’re in that neck of the woods, I suggest making
a pit stop.

Short and Sweet Hummer Facts

Humm-ble Beginnings

The street version of the Hummer didn’t exist until
Arnold Schwarzenegger asked for a military Hum-vee to
be modified. Nice one, Governor.

The Damage

These babies don’t come cheap. The H1 costs around
US$120,000 and the H2 will leave you US$50,000
lighter. A standard service is US$1000. A replacement
tyre, US$600.

Fill-up Fact

Hummers have a main petrol tank and a back up.
Together, they hold about 150 litres which means it’ll
cost you an arm and a leg to fill up. Ouch.

Fancy Footwork

All Hummers are automatic, but you have to drive them
with both feet at the same time when in rough terrain.
Left foot for the brake, right foot for the
accelerator. Easier said then done.

Hummer Hate Mail

Its gas guzzling capacity has peeved off a few of the
green types, sparking some Hummer hate clubs! There’s
even a website called FUH2 (F*ck you and your H2) that
publishes photos of people giving Hummers the finger.

Charming!

Hummer School

A two-hour Off-Road Driving Academy session including
Hummer rental is US$400. A half hour Ride-Along
Session is US$35 per person. Hummer owners can drive
their own vehicles on the site, at a cost of US$170
for two hours.

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